Key PagesJoukowsky Institute Classroom |
The theme that spoke to me the most from the readings of this week was the quality of ideology that it can become internalized by the members of the society. Such an understanding has an important potential for contextualizing the Assyrian state ideology as well as individual art works like the White Obelisk.
Foucault’s suggestion to abandon “ideology” altogether as a term only to replace it with the more encompassing “discourse” found place in Eagleton’s (1991: 8) writing, with the comment that discourse can account for the more entrenched power relationships that are central to our lives in a way that the term ideology can not. For Eagleton, being a discourse, ideology is able to diffuse our lives on many levels. The last meaning he proposes for ideology takes it aside from a dominant realm of the elites, and brings it to a holistic level where it is interwoven into the whole material culture of the society (1991: 30).
In a similar vein, Adam Smith looks at ideology from the viewpoint of the political, and thus sees it penetrating through many different levels of the society. He thinks that “the twinning of life and politics is the original activity of sovereign power” (partly quoting from Agamben 1998; Smith 2011: 416). Tackling with sovereignty as well as ideology and politics; Smith discusses how all of these concepts are inextricably linked into each other, only to be internalized by the members of the society. He uses spectacle and feasting as examples of discussing these terms, and goes into the concepts of inclusion and exclusion, and how can they be mediated through landscapes and material culture.
Such discussions are unfortunately missing from the Liverani chapter about the ideology of the Assyrian Empire. Constructing his writing on polarizations such as center-periphery and active-passive; Liverani misses the boat on providing any nuanced accounts of ideology. His oblivious writing, though, generates more thoughts on perception and reception (through them not being mentioned in the text at all), and made me think about how architecture and art works were received within the Assyrian imperial context. Dovetailing with Eagleton’s and Smith’s ideas about internalized ideology, one can argue that artworks were within the category of the material culture that Smith was expanding upon for mechanisms of sovereignty and ideology. Being available to us in museums today, the ancient Near Eastern artifacts have the quality to attract a wide span of audience in our modern day, which tends to be taken for granted and projected backwards.
The throne room and its reliefs in the Northwest Palace of Assurnasirpal II in Nimrud constitutes a good example of this sort. The historical narrative on these reliefs were accompanied by cuneiform texts, and was wrapped around the walls of the throne room in a structured fashion (Winter 1981). Thinking back, many qualities such as the scale, actual material, lighting and use of the room would have fed into the perception of these reliefs when the room was in use. Furthermore, as we discussed in the class, the room would be very crowded with visitors and security guards, and these reliefs would never be accessible to the visitors in a way that they are available to us now in museums. In such a case, the mechanisms of absorbing and internalizing of ideologies would and could not be as straightforward as the ones Liverani suggested, but instead would depend on many individual encounters with these carved narratives followed by complex and individual negotiations.
Another example on which the ground between the artwork, its reception, the individual and the state ideology can be discussed is the White Obelisk. Carved on all four sides, the images on these surfaces were capped by texts of varying length (Pittman 1996). The issue that this arrangement immediately brings up is literacy in the ancient world, with the specific case of the complex cuneiform. I would like to argue that this is part of the construction of internalized ideologies as well, since being able to make a meaning out of a narrative is only as valuable as being able to not understand it. Such mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion, thus, would have played important parts in the dissemination and negotiation of the state paradigm.
In the end, one can argue that we glimpsed only a little through the complex discussions about the interplay between the state and its ideology on the one hand, and the individual receipient on the other hand. I think that such discussions are especially valuable in the specific case of the Assyrian Empire, since its teleological narratives tend to outshine the complex negotiations on the individual level that in fact had profound effects on the mechanisms of the empire.
Agamben, G. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Eagleton, Terry; 1991.“Introduction” Ideology: an introduction. London:Verso, 1-40.
Liverani, Mario; 1979."The Ideology of the Assyrian Empire" in Power and Propaganda: A Symposium on Ancient Empires. M.T. Larsen (ed.). Copenhagen: 297-317.
Pittman, Holly; “The White Obelisk and the problem of historical narrative in the art of Assyria,” Art Bulletin 78 (1996) 334-355.
Smith, Adam; 2011. “Archaeologies of sovereignty,” Annual Review of Anthropology 40: 415-32.
Winter, Irene J.; 1981."Royal Rhetoric and the Development of Historical narrative in Neo-Assyrian Reliefs", Studies in Visual Communication 7: 2-38.